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Have guitar, will travel: A long and winding road with Laurence Juber

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Celebrating his latest album [Soul of Light] and wowing crowds all over America, fingerstyle guitarist Laurence Juber exemplifies a committed musician who still has plenty left to do. A former member of one of rock aristocracy's most powerhouse groups, Paul McCartney and Wings, Juber was content to share the limelight.

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But after McCartney terminated the hugely popular band in 1981, Juber made the crucial decision to pack his bags and depart London for America. The talented artist eventually became an in-demand session guitarist, playing with George Harrison and appearing on hit records such as Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley's ubiquitous duet, "[I've Had] The Time of My Life."

A series of critically-acclaimed albums began in 1990, and the road beckoned once again. The versatile guitarist was never motivated to become a solo live performer, but he soon gained an appreciation for this unique facet of entertainment.

For awhile, the musician found performing alone to be quite a challenge. However, watching stand-up comedians fortunately helped him polish his stage technique. Decades later, Juber still retains his objective to entertain both young and mature audiences.

Not considering himself to be a singer, Juber allows his guitar to speak for him. The self-sufficient musician is an outstanding role model for any aspiring musicians wishing to pursue music full-time. Visit his official website, LaurenceJuber.com, to know when he will be performing in your neck of the woods.

In the final installment of a far-reaching interview [the previous chapter is entitled "Guitar Virtuoso Laurence Juber: An Artist Who Has Never Betrayed His Talent"], Juber remembers the thrill of performing in front of an audience for the first time when he was six years old, why his goal was always to master the guitar, how he handles the constant travel, and examines his current one-man stage show...

The Laurence Juber Interview, Part Six [Conclusion]

Do you recall the first time you got up on a stage and performed?

I don’t remember it very well, but I was six or seven years old. I sang Leiber and Stoller’s “Charlie Brown,” a popular hit for The Coasters, at a talent contest near my grandmother’s house. I think I won a little matchbox car. I also recall, probably at age 11, playing at some kind of event at my junior high school in England.

You have to understand, I never wanted to necessarily be in the spotlight. I just loved playing guitar. My first paid gig was playing at a wedding when I was 13. I was thrilled to be on a stage with a bunch of great, older musicians. They put the music in front of me, which I could just about read. The bass player would lean over and give me tips on figuring out the harmonies.

Of course, I was in bands as a teenager. I played all kinds of live shows in various capacities before Wings. But most were on and off jazz gigs with English artists; I didn’t do much in the way of rock and roll.

I performed with Mike Smith from The Dave Clark Five, who had a duo with Mike d’Abo from Manfred Mann [both artists were the lead singers/keyboardists in their respective bands].

I also played guitar with Pete Brown, who wrote many classic Cream lyrics with Jack Bruce [e.g. “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room”]. He had a band called Back To The Front around 1976. Landscape, a fusion-type band that later had UK hits in 1981 with “Einstein A Go-Go” and “Norman Bates”, was another.

But my goal was to master the guitar. As soon as I learned that one could make a living being a studio musician, that really became my ambition. And I accomplished that. What plucked me out of it was playing for Wings. That took me into a different world.

Until I joined Wings, I had been working consistently as a studio musician throughout the mid-‘70s. It wasn’t until I started getting out and playing solo that I really started to enjoy the process of being a live performer.

Have you ever sung onstage?

Oh yeah; I sang backing vocals in Wings. In my solo shows, once in awhile I might burst into song. When I teach at guitar camp workshops, typically they’ll have sing-alongs in the evening. I’ll happily join in and sing a few Wings’ songs.

At Beatlefests, I’ve been known to sing one of my favorites – “Johnny B. Goode.” It’s interesting – there’s an example of a song I associate with The Beatles since I used to hear them perform it on The BBC. It was never on one of their original albums. I associate it with The Beatles just as much as I do with Chuck Berry.

One time I remember somebody in the audience asked me about the Gilligan’s Island musical, so I sang one of the songs from it. As a trained musician, it’s not necessarily that difficult to sing and play; it’s just a different skill set. It’s so important to me that my voice be the guitar. That’s my main objective.

Remember, I never set out to be a singer; I set out to be a guitarist. I made a decision that I was not going to compromise my guitar playing by spending too much time also developing my vocal skills. I had voice lessons in college, but that wasn’t my primary motivation.

If you think of it in terms of…there’s this kind of river of music inside me. Most of the time I choose to express it on the guitar, but sometimes I get to express it in other ways. I might be doing a movie score, video game, or writing for an orchestra. It’s simply being able to draw on this inner well-spring of music.

How would you describe your show to someone who’s never attended one?

I play guitar, and people tell me that I do it well. I certainly seem to be able to entertain people. I describe what I do as borderline everything. I play many different styles, almost like a fusion of folk, jazz, pop, rock, with a little bit of classical thrown in. I do it with something of a sense of humor.

I play Beatles’ songs, Jimi Hendrix, “The Pink Panther Theme”, and original tunes. I talk to the audience; it’s not just a dry recital. There’s some good foot-tappin’ stuff, and there’s some romantic stuff. A wide musical spectrum, that reflects my versatility.

My goal is to entertain, which is the key. I can always play for guitar players, but it’s playing for non-guitarists and music lovers that really satisfies me. I get a very wide age range – young kids, teenagers, grandmothers, people in their 90s. I seem to have an appeal across the board.

Depending on what environment I’m playing in, I’ll lean one way or another and get a sense of what the audience likes.

For instance, when I play at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, I’ll play to that environment. Even though I’ll play some Beatles’ tunes, I’ll be feeling it in a little more jazz/cabaret ambience. Whereas, if I’m playing in a rock club, I’ll lean a little more towards the rock end of the spectrum.

I’m very versatile. I have a number of compositions that have become fairly standard guitar repertoire. So people request those, and they’ll request some of my Beatles’ stuff. It all works itself out.

Of course, folks sometimes shout out requests during my gigs. I feel happy to have the request. The problem is – if it’s not anything I can jump straight into, I tend to forget by the time I could be doing it.

I’m happy to have an interaction with the audience., it’s definitely important to me. There’s no fourth wall between me and the crowd in that respect. It’s not like I have a pre-set act that I’m locked into, and I don’t interact.

The fact that it’s just me up there with the guitar is a challenge. I learned a lot of stage technique from watching stand-up comedians. Hope has been very helpful with me in terms of encouraging me to develop performance skills.

Performance is a different kind of art to simply being a guitar player. You can only develop it by being out there and doing it. The more I perform live, the more fun it gets.

Given the fact that it was never something I was originally motivated to do, I’ve gained an appreciation for being a solo performer. It reinforces my goal of self-sufficiency.

Can the constant travel associated with touring become tough for you?

On some levels, traveling gets easier. Whereas on other levels, it gets harder – having to get up really early for early flights, getting to airports, dealing with security, and then sitting on a plane for however many hours. But I have my laptop or I’ve got my iPad, and I can listen to music or work.

I enjoy reading, too. I'm currently reading Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner – it's a history of the development of the American West and its water resources. The last book I read was Neal Stephenson's Reamde and before that, Books 4-6 of the Charles Stross Merchant Princes series. A lot of my reading is current affairs, too.

So I can kind of deal with traveling. But having to get up really early for early flights…things don’t always go smoothly. Of course, you have weather to deal with. That’s probably the thing I am most concerned about whenever I’m touring – what’s the weather going to be like?

I’ve been stuck in Dallas for periods of time because of thunderstorms. During the wintertime, sometimes I have to rent a SUV because it might be snowing.

Do you get many opportunities to return to your homeland and tour?

I recently played in London in April 2011. The last time I did a tour of the UK was with folk rock singer/songwriter Al Stewart. His hits in America include 1976’s “Year of the Cat” and 1978’s "Time Passages." Incidentally, I produced his last four albums.

I opened Al's show and then joined him onstage. It was fun spending a few weeks back in England. I’ve toured in Europe on my own [i.e. Germany and Italy] as well as Asia. So I get around.

But right now my agent has got me hyper-focusing on the U.S. Certainly, it is a big market that keeps me busy. There’s lot of places I haven’t played in America. And that way, at least I don’t have to get on a transatlantic or transpacific flight. That makes life a little easier.

So, are you a U.S. citizen?

Absolutely; I’ve lived in California for nearly 30 years. I became a U.S. citizen in 1988, largely because I wanted to vote. You know, you pay taxes, and you want to have a say in things. I’ve never regretted doing that. America is my adopted home, and I’ve lived here longer than I lived in England.

What is your perfect day?

Oh my goodness, everyday is a perfect day. Hope and I like to go hiking and to theatre. I like photography, and I’m kind of getting back into it. It was a pretty intense hobby when I was in Wings.

When I’m not traveling, I lead a fairly quiet life. I get up in the morning, have breakfast, walk the dogs, spend a little (or a lot!) of time taking care of business and then I get to play guitar.

But the fact is, I mostly get to do what I always wanted to do. From the time I was 11 years old, I played guitar, and that for me is perfection. I’m happily married and have been for 30 years, and that’s perfection too.

Author's Note: To read a compelling interview with Collective Soul bassist Will Turpin ["Will Turpin remembers John Lennon on the 31st anniversary of his death"], simply click on the link. In it, Turpin remembers the terrible day Lennon was shot, his favorite Lennon music, how Collective Soul paid tribute to the erstwhile Beatle, how their writing styles are quite similar, the importance of helping young musicians on the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, and much more...

The Complete Laurence Juber Interview: Links

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